Sunday, January 31, 2010

Democracy as a creation of the individual rather than an abstract system

Here's a little video I made for the Democracy Video Challenge 2010. Ideas posited in this video are: democracy is not just an abstract system, we can come to embody it. Ways to this are to create awareness, and to change the environment so as to guide people in acting more according to democratic ideas. Democracy can be generated within too, and we have to devote ourselves to seeing when we can develop towards a more democratic stance. Democracy is in our every move.

Friday, January 22, 2010

graphics on a windmill

This is the Siemens superstar, a project by German multimedia artist Michael Pendry. It is basically a wind turbine with 9.000 programmable RGB LEDs integrated into it. The superstar was installed last month in Munich, a city that wants to run on sustainable resources by 2025. I'd love to see these graphics coupled to a realtime digital datasource, so it becomes sustainable plus decorative plus informative.

See it in action here:

the first steps of regrowing the human body

Anthony Atala explains at TED how the first steps are taken to regrow human tissue, his ultimate goal being to regrow entire body parts, and who knows, maybe entirely new body parts too. Watch if you are interested in engineering your body, tissue conditioning outside of the body, baking organs in an oven, and inkjet printing a heart in 40 minutes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

generative product design; computers that create ideas

It's one of the big new ideas: creative computers. The first reaction is often one that stems from the oh so pervasive idea that humans and computers are fundamentally different, a reaction of resistance that occurs so often when the abilities of computers expand into new realms, the reaction "that's impossible".

Sure, computers are programmed by people. Sure, even when you program a computer to do something random or chaotically, still this was programmed into it. At some point though the causal line between programmer and programmed becomes very hard to be found, and it's only a matter of perception before you see a computer as an autonomous thing with thoughts, feelings, empathy, and creativity.

On these pictures you see what happens when you use generative algorithms to automate the exploration of a design space. As a designer I must say that I think this can be inspiring in the early stages of a creation process, though in the end a design will still have to be internalized by people if we want to prevent things from becoming a postmodern cybermess where we treat the physical as a product of the mental, but instead suffuse the things we make with socio-cultural and psychological depth. I don't think computers can do that at this stage, because they simply too much lack a body and a way to base their behavior more on their direct embodiment instead of on abstract codings. But as always, development comes from both sides of a spectrum, and I think things could really get interesting this way if we can do world-simulations in which our products participate with simulated bodies that operate according to an embodied cognition approach. In other words, things get interesting when we can simulate an entire design process, including virtual user involvement. How shallow it may seem as an idea, still I think it might drastically speed up design processes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

sculpting through singing

How simple an idea, yet how brilliant the enaction. Mitchell F. Chan had the idea of physicalizing voice through ondulating ropes, and used the increasingly popular programming environment Processing to analyze the voice of soprano Ashleigh Semkiw and turn this into output for motors to change the frequency and intensity of vibration in the ropes. Thus he gave nascence to a kinetic sculpture in which human and technology are intrinsically connected as if they were one.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

LED floorlamp

Nice design by Zhiqiang Liu for this floorlamp based on LEDs. The position of the lights can be controlled with a remote control. A future idea might be to explore a bit more on the interaction side, since I'd suppose few people like to have yet another remote. What's the problem with just walking to the lamp, or maybe gestures or full body motions can be coupled to the lighting qualities.

Monday, January 18, 2010

digital guitar

Check out the Misa Digital Guitar. There has been an ongoing evolution of digital music instruments, but this one is pretty interesting. Of course, you lose the traditional beauty of sound that directly comes from vibrations in the material of the instrument, but the main point why these digital instruments are so interesting is their programmability. In the future devices can intelligently adapt to their users so we might come to see a true mutual interaction between a human and his instrument, where next to the human playing his instrument, the instrument plays its user too.

Friday, January 15, 2010

ecological city lights

At my time at Philips Design I witnessed the development of these sustainable city lights, which to me still is a brilliant concept that should be realized soon. It would definitely be a milestone towards an interconnected techno-ecological society.

The concept behind these elegant structures that almost look as if they came from the land of Pandora is this: during the daytime, the petals open up like a flower and position themselves such to collect as much sunlight as possible. In case of a cloudy, windy day, they position themselves in order to catch the wind and start rotating to generate electricity, which can then be fed back into the grid. The energy flow is visualized on the outside of the stem through LED lights. At night, the petals close and start to light up the city.

This concept fits so nicely into holistic thinking for several reasons:
- it gives us more shadow during the day, which reduces global warming
- warmth is largely converted into light, serving a basic human need
- electricity is saved by using LED lights
- the structure is continuously adaptive, which optimizes the efficiency
- the aesthetics of form and movement remind us almost of a biological organism, which slowly suffuses us with the mindset that our technological environment can come alive

vertical lawns

Grass goes vertical thanks to Green Living Technologies. They developed a system that allows grass, but also other plants like vegetables, to grow on a wall. A first commercial application of this very green idea is to control the placement of grass of different colors and thus create advertising space on a vertical lawn. Another side effect is that we create an entirely new habitat, and I wonder which animals will start to settle there. I'd love to see vertical snails, bunnies, and lawnmowers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

my robot lover

Check out Franz Steiner astonishingly artificially lifelike images depicting a borderless intimacy between woman and machine. I truly think it is only a matter of time before robots come to play a vital part in people's, say, exploratory phases.

Microsoft Natal, full body virtual reality

With Microsoft's Natal project, a markerless full body motion and facial expression capture system for the Xbox 360, virtual reality is coming close to the real thing. The body becomes the interface, and you become the virtual character. Thus, we have nearly created the perfect fake world to escape into from our real lives. This is a great development, finally virtual reality is coming to a fully embodied stage, and when we can live it we can also come to see how it's only a niche of what we can do with new technologies. Moreover, we can come to see more clearly what new purposes these technologies can serve and how they can uplift us in our lives. I might just wait for the Natal system to become available by next Christmas, and play my friend's Wii's for now instead. There is something disturbing about girls playing virtual soccer in a densely furnished living room though.

arms and grippers for Anybot's full scale humanoid teleoperated robot

No matter how interesting it seems, there is something disturbing about teleoperating robots. And the amount of psychiatric problems of people who operate unmanned drones from their clean desks in Las Vegas that are currently killing people in Pakistan definitely testifies to that. Still, the people from Anybots in this movie seem not to be aware of this or concerned about potential large scale consequences of these technologies, when they break out of their niches that they were originally marketed for. My favorite neuroscientist Vilaynur S. Ramachandran has described laughter as "nature's false alarm". In other words, laughter could arise because there is something upsetting, stressing, or dangerous going on, but it just turns out innocent for the people in the current situation. I just can't help being a little bit concerned, especially when seeing the crude responses of the robot, the commentator's words "scary" and "useless", and the people who try to test the robot for its strength. If we're going to play that game with the botpeople it just may turn out to get nasty.

A copy can just never be as good as the original, and full control over any technology is an illusion that will always bite back.

swarming robots pooping out architectural structures

Architecture student Mark Bearak has proposed machines that can swarm together and perpetuate themselves upwards by excreting structural material for building woven architectures.

making mountains, and the intrigues of geoengineering

It seems like the coming years could really be the years where we are going to make big changes, and create projects of global proportions. The term 'geoengineering' is uprising, and heated talks about pumping sulfate gas into the atmosphere in order to reduce global warming are popping up like mushrooms. We are hacking the planet, and in that we come to learn that treating it as a technology is the new paradigm for creation.

As our technologies increasingly extend the potential impact of our actions, we do need to be careful not to be caught up in the newness of it and impulsively react to the first seductions of our new capabilities. In fact, we need to be more careful than ever or things are going to get really messy. Before making any decision, a very simple method to introduce carefulness is laddering. This simply involves asking ourselves the why question of 'what's the point of that?' over and over again, until we have a reason for everything. And that is not as simple as it seems, in fact we will need answers from people all over the planet and intensively stay connected to them in order to not misinterpret anything. There is no real need for clouds made of marshmallow, a bluer sky, and air that changes its smell everyday, and I don't think we need to find that out by experience.

I am sure that it will turn out that we need to look at nature, and come to understand those things we never really paid attention to: the rocks, the trees and the rivers. Re-introducing lost aspects of the primeval nature we used to live in millenia ago will be a magnificent first step, until the planet we create truly becomes a new home to us.

A nice example of re-introducing nature through technology are some projects involving the creation of artificial hills. These give us the overall physicality of nature, but intertwined with human intelligence of building structures with a minimum amount of material, so there is a lot of space left to inhabit. What a wonderfully intriguing age we live in, with people actually proposing to buildmountains in cities like Berlin and Wroclaw.

kinetic dress beautifully shows wearer's stress patterns

Kerry Jia Yi Lin has created a great wearable electronics prototype with her dress that shows the "emotional and non-emotional stress of the wearer". Not being entirely sure about what that means, this design just speaks for itself. Like all great design does.

This dress is such a splendid example of how wearable electronics can take human embodiment further, and even how it can change our entire lives and mindsets. This kind of directly interactive systems that function on the background of awareness and alter our embodiment can change the whole way in which we interact with the world, how we feel about it and how we reflect on things. They take us back to a mindset where we are fully connected to the things around us, where we come to intuitively come to understand that every of our actions, even every of our thoughts, is as relevant as any other, and has a continuous effect on our world. They rephysicalize us as a kind of hybrid animals in an artificial lifeworld, that will be richer and more beautiful that anyone could have ever dreamt of. This dress truly is a new organ of our body, and that I think is a beautiful idea to keep in mind while developing products.

I hope that Jia Yi will make another movie of her work, one that just shows the dress being worn in relevant contexts, without any further explanation. Show us what the dress can do, and moreover, emphasize its aesthetics of movement. Let it be of highly professional quality, ready to go into the media, and simply let it sell the dress, nothing else. 30 Seconds is enough for an impactful little clip. I will post it here too, of course.

drift, and the palpability of reality

"I drift, half awake, half asleep. Moving through the city I recall but have never been to."

I don't know what exactly the creator of this magnificent little video, a sort of psychedelified Koyaanisqatsi, intended to show or have people experience, but I would like it to illustrate the plasticity of what we think of as reality.

Have you ever played Guitar Hero and found the world drifting upwards afterwards, because the graphics on the screen had been previously moving downwards? You probably know of a similar experience that you maybe didn't really think about, but shows you something very fundamental: that there is no static, absolute reality outside of you, but that it's always your body and mind that are inextricably intertwined with it too, in every moment of your life. Static reality then, is only a concept we hold on to in order to seemingly simplify our lives, i.e. make them more predictable and controllable. You could even see the whole concept of reality as a bed of comfort. Throw it away and the cosmos shows you what more incredible things are there to be found and lived.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

smooth electricity

I always love it when a little creative process is installed to redesign something that was so obviously and for these days horribly functionalistic, and moreover, is visible everywhere in our lives. This structure for an electricity pylon, done by HDA, is adaptable and optimized to minimize materials with maximal function, according to Buckminster Fuller's idea of a tensegrity. What results is an extraordinarily organic design that is, apart from functionally optimized, calm to the eye and mind. I hope we will start to design the electricity flowing through these cables and reaching our microprocessors in a more organic way too, so we can grow towards a where the physical and digital are not only inextricably linked, but unified.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We should become more artificial, says Slavoj Zizek

Philosopher and theorist Slavoj Zizek talks about a new view of nature in the 2008 documentary 'Examined Life', with his powerful Slovenian accent and industrial outfit. The main points I took from this excerpt:

- ascribing meaning to catastrophical events is comfortable because it takes the matters out of our own hands, for example when we say it's a punishment by god or nature.
- nature is not a harmonious organism that we can disturb. There is no nature.
- ecology makes us realize that the world we have now is the best possible world
- ecology is taking over the role of religion and is becoming a conservative ideology
- we are not wired to believe in catastrophes, until we experience them.
- but: we do not need to reconnect with what we think of as nature, but instead even cut off our roots with nature. In other words, we should become more artificial.
- the challenge then, is to find spirituality in an abstract technological lifeworld
- we should not idealize what we love, but love things in their fullness.